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Joe Yonan, the travel and food editor at The Washington Post, recently adopted a lifestyle shunned by many travelers and food obsessives alike: vegetarianism. But Yonan says that with a creative approach, vegetarians can eat well and fully experience the world — and continue to oversee journalism that appeals to omnivores. Kojo chats with Yonan about the challenges of the vegetarian diet and the stereotypes that come with it. He also talks with a farmer who’s inspired Yonan to change how he looks at food.
- Zach Lester Co-Owner, Tree and Leaf Farm
- Joe Yonan Author, "Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook" (Ten Speed Press, 2013); Food and Travel Editor, The Washington Post
Recipes From “Eat Your Vegetables”
Creamy Green Gazpacho
1 medium tomato, cored and cut into quarters
1 small cucumber, peeled and cut into large chunks
Flesh from 1/2 avocado, cut into large chunks
3 large basil leaves
1/2 jalapeño (optional)
3/4 cup lightly packed watercress or baby spinach leaves
1 small celery stalk (optional)
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, or more to taste
1 tablespoon honey
2 ice cubes
Filtered water (optional)
Kosher or sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
Reserve one-quarter of the tomato, two cucumber chunks, two avocado chunks, and one basil leaf. Combine and finely chop for garnish.
Stem and seed the jalapeño half and reserve the seeds. Cut the jalapeño into several pieces. Combine one or two pieces of the jalapeño with the remaining tomato, cucumber, avocado, and basil and the watercress or spinach, celery, garlic, red wine vinegar, honey, and ice cubes in a blender or the bowl of a food processor; puree until smooth. Add 1/4 cup or more water to thin the mixture, if necessary.
Taste and season with salt, pepper, and more vinegar, if needed. If you want the soup spicier, add more of the jalapeño, a little at a time, as well as some of the seeds if desired, blending and tasting after each addition. Refrigerate until cold, then pour into a bowl and top with the reserved chopped tomato, cucumber, avocado, and basil and a drizzle of olive oil, and eat.
Fusilli with Corn Sauce
3 ounces whole wheat fusilli, farfalle, or other curly pasta
2 ears fresh corn
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 large onion, chopped (about 3/4 cup)
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
4 fresh basil leaves, stacked, rolled, and thinly sliced
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta until it is al dente.
While the pasta is cooking, shuck the corn and rinse it under running water, removing as many of the silks as you can with your hands. Rub one of the ears over a coarse grater set over a bowl to catch the milk and pulp. Cut the kernels off the other cob with a knife (see page 180); keep the whole kernels separate from the milk and pulp.
Pour the oil into a large skillet set over medium heat. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the onion and garlic and sauté until tender. Add the corn kernels and sauté for just a few minutes, until the corn softens slightly and brightens in color. Stir in the corn milk and pulp and turn off the heat. Cover to keep warm.
When the pasta is al dente, drain it (reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta water) and add it to the skillet with the corn sauce. Toss to combine, adding a little pasta water if the sauce needs loosening. Stir in the cheese, then taste and add salt as needed and grind in plenty of fresh black pepper. Stir in the basil, scoop everything into a bowl, and eat.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Declaring yourself a vegetarian is a pretty risky move when you're in the business of editing a major daily newspapers food and travel coverage. It's your job after all to serve a mostly omnivorous audience and point them to fulfilling experiences all over the globe.
MR. KOJO NNAMDISo when The Washington Post Joe Yonan made a public veg head proclamation earlier this year, he knew he was exposing himself to those who write off vegetarians as bad dinner guests and close-minded travelers. But Yonan says it could just be that those critics haven't met the right vegetarians yet.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnd that with a creative approach, vegetarians can both eat delicious food and fully experience the world. he joins us in studio to explore the challenges of vegetarian diet and the stereotypes that come with it along with the farmer who he says helped him to appreciate his long love affair with vegetables.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoe Yonan is the author of "Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook." He's also the travel and food editor at The Washington Post. Joe Yonan, thank you for joining us.
MR. JOE YONANThanks so much for having me Kojo.
NNAMDIZach Lester is the co-owner of the Tree and Leaf Farm in Unionville, Va. Zach Lester, thank you for joining us.
MR. ZACH LESTERHello, Kojo, thank you.
NNAMDIAnd you too can join the conversation. Are you a vegetarian and when did you choose to be one? 800-433-8850, you can send email to email@example.com. Joe, you have said that the moment you let the world know you were a vegetarian it was like a second coming out. that the reactions you got from people, the questions your friends wanted to ask you were a lot like the ones you got many years ago when you first shared with them your sexual orientation. Why was this such a dramatic development for you and why was it such a big deal for so many people when they learned that the editor of a major daily newspaper's food and travel coverage was, gasp, a vegetarian.
YONANIt's so shocking, isn't it?
YONANShocking. You know, I think that people just have it in their heads that, well, if you're in the food business that you should and must just ravenously devour the world. And I understand that viewpoint absolutely and I think it's not just people who looked at me as the food editor but, you know, friends and colleagues and coworkers who just were used to talking to me about all sorts of food and I think somehow realized that maybe there was a little tiny part of me, maybe a growing part of me, that they just hadn't understood.
NNAMDIAnthony Bourdain has said that vegetarians are bad travelers, bad guests, a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn. How do you feel about the stereotypes vegetarians are labeled with and where did they fit into your head when you made your decision to adopt this lifestyle?
YONANWell, you know, Tony, whom I've met and spent some good times with and interviewed him on stage and the like, is really a provocateur par excellence. He is a quote machine so I think a lot of those things that he says are just designed to get a rise out of people in the way that he does.
YONANBut I certainly thought that, you know, this, you know, I honestly I've said things similar to what Tony has said truth be told. You know, I think that when your focus is food and when you believe that the world has a beautiful culture of all types of food it can be really easy to dismiss vegetarians as, you know, as people who are just maybe self-righteous, certainly limiting themselves for reasons that you maybe don't appreciate or maybe you think that they're too focused on their health and not hedonistic enough for your taste.
YONANThat they're too focused on the environment and that can rub people the wrong way. They see those things as class issues, they think that, they assume that you're being judgmental. That just because you decide to eat a certain way that you're all high and mighty and that you must be telling everybody else how they want to eat.
NNAMDIBut you, you describe the approach to vegetarianism that you follow now, you say you're not a purist.
NNAMDIYou're not a self-righteous, putting down meat-eaters kind of person.
YONANThat's right. That's right. One analogy that I've used is I sort of think that it's some, I do think that it's somewhat akin to religion in that you maybe grew up, you know, with a certain teaching or thinking on the subject.
YONANYou did a lot of reading or have done a lot of reading, you have mentors maybe who have told you different things. You've tried different things and that ultimately it's a pretty personal decision and something that you have to kind of make for yourself and so in that vein I, in some ways I think it's really highly disrespectful to directly criticize somebody for the food choices that they make.
NNAMDIHowever there are factors that can influence a religious choice and factors that can influence a dietary choice. What happened at the Nose to Tail Pork Cooking competition that apparently gave you your final push to your current diet?
YONANYes, yes, so this was, I'm glad you brought that up. So this is, you know, I don't mean to cast dispersions on this particular event. It's just an interesting example but it's an event called COCHON555 and they do it in several cities around the country every year and it's five chefs and each get a pig, a whole pig and they each make five courses using as many parts of the pig as possible. So that's -- I think it's five cities too, right, so that's hence the 555.
YONANSo I was a judge and, you know, there are five chefs each making five dishes. So you do the math. That's 25 pork dishes. And a couple of things kind of occurred to me while I was tasting all these pork dishes. One of them was, you know, it's -- there's just a lot and it's heavy and it's intense. And more importantly I think what occurred to me was sort of the difference between the philosophy of Nose to Tail and the practice.
YONANSo the philosophy of Nose to Tail, which I truly support, the idea is if you're going to eat an animal, hopefully you raise it humanely, you kill it humanely. And as a thank you to the animal for its giving of its life to you, you show it respect by using as much of it as possible, so you're not wasting things. You're not treating the animal disrespectfully. What I think has happened is it's turned into these over-the-top kind of almost, dare I say, orgiastic approaches to eating. And it struck me in that moment that just because you should use all of the animal when you cook it doesn't mean that you need to eat all of that in one sitting.
NNAMDIThat's the part I found amusing, not if it sends me into a food coma anyways.
YONANRight, right, right, right, right.
NNAMDIWell, apparently that was one of the things that influenced Joe Yonan's choice. In case you're just joining us, he is the author of "Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook." He's the travel and food editor at the Washington Post. He joins us in studio with Zach Lester. Zach is the co-owner of the Tree and Leaf Farm in Unionville. Zach's farm is two hours away from Washington but people in the city can usually find his produce at the DuPont farmers market on the weekends. How did buying food from people like Zach in general and Zach in particular make you realize that you were falling deeper in love with vegetables?
YONANIt's so interesting. I have an essay about Zach in the book and we spent a couple days together last year. I followed him from -- I went out to the farm and I spent time with him as he was preparing for the DuPont market. And...
NNAMDIHe follows people around a lot. He followed his sister and his brother-in-law all the way to Maine, but that's another story. But here's Joe again.
YONANThat's right. But you know what? One of the things that I found so interesting about that and that I mentioned a little bit in the essay, is we were at some point during the couple days Zach mentioned romanesco broccoli or romanesco cauliflower on his farm. And if you don't know it, it's this -- well, it looks other worldly. It's got this, like, kind of fractal pyramid shape. It looks like -- it's just incredible looking, very distinctive.
YONANAnd when Zach mentioned it I started to say, oh yeah, I've loved romanesco for years. And then I caught myself because I remembered that the first time I had had romanesco, it was Zach's from Zach's farm. It had been several years earlier at the DuPont market. And then it started to occur to me that some of my favorite experiences with vegetables and different vegetables and how to prepare them had grown out of my experience with shopping at the market from farmers like Zach.
YONANAnd Zach's stand at the DuPont market, for those of you who haven't been, is -- I mean, it's just -- I'm embarrassed to say this in front of him. I don't want him to think I'm gushing too much, but he just read this essay in which I gush, gush, gush, so it probably doesn't matter. But the stand is a thing of beauty. And you just go in...
NNAMDIWell, you don't gush. I'll gush for you. Zach, you know what he said. He said he was drawn to your stand, one of the reasons is that you and the people you work with always look so healthy and bright. What would you say to that? Is good food, particularly good vegetables, something that gives a person a kind of vitality, a kind of bounciness?
LESTERIt must be. It's not good sleep, that's for sure. Yeah, nutritionally dense food definitely goes a long way. And the vitality kind of comes out. And we always say when people come to our stand, you know, feel the love. And there is plenty there for our vegetables. We're showing our story and looking towards our customer's story. And kind of that whole happening, for me, definitely it's very important to influence by being influenced. And so that's -- there's this great reciprocation and dialogue. And, yeah, that synergy between the customer and -- myself the farmer and the customer, people become friends.
LESTERSo I feel that a vegetarian or not -- I'm a vegetarian. I've been for 20 years and the focus definitely comes from being raised by pig farmers, you know. Not my parents, just the -- and all of that entailed in terms of raising those animals and the type of farming. And it was old and traditional but still was dramatic for me. And so then always being a plant person, it was always natural to just eat vegetables and as well as raise vegetables. And in that way of -- that we would be raising food out of beauty on the farm and off the farm.
NNAMDIIt's a Food Wednesday conversation on vegetables with Zach Lester, co-owner of the Tree and Leaf Farm in Unionville, Va. and Joe Yonan, author of the book "Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook." Joe Yonan is travel and food editor at the Washington post. Call us at 800-433-8850. If you're a vegetarian, what do you do when you travel? Are there times when you give yourself a break from your diet in order to enjoy cultural experiences, 800-433-8850? Speaking of traveling, I'll start with Pat in Washington, D.C. Pat, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PATGood afternoon. Great topic and I appreciate it. I've been a vegetarian for about three or four years now, been 100 percent plant-based for about a year. It's been a great experience. I'm in the business world and, you know, my comment is is that I have no problem. It takes a little practice but I have no problems finding foods to eat, whether I'm at a steakhouse entertaining clients or, you know, eating in a hotel lobby in between -- before my first meeting. But there are options out there and I wanted to make sure that people knew that it could be done with just a little bit of effort.
PATBut I do have one question...
NNAMDIDo you also travel internationally, Pat?
PATNo, not internationally. It's mostly domestic, but, you know, my wife and daughter and I just came back from a week-and-a-half in Nice, France and, you know, in a place where, you know, there's -- it was more touristy and got some more options. But we filled our bellies pretty good. I just -- you know, it was hard giving up the cheese, I will tell you that.
PATBut my question -- and I'm finding my lingering concern is I ingest more and more and more vegetables and I feel wonderful -- but my concerns around -- I have to stay organic. I feel that's important but GMO is a big concern too. And the more I ingest of, you know, plant-based foods, I am concerned about ingesting more GMOs and nonorganic type foods. Is there any comment or maybe direction there?
YONANWell, I'm sure Zach has some thoughts on this too but I would say that the first thing that comes to my mind is, you know -- and this is not a panacea, but is to shop small. It seems to me that the chances of food that's grown not only organically but, you know, seeds that have been saved and heirloom varieties is higher if you're buying food from smaller nearby farmers, I would say.
LESTERYeah, I think the small food is, you know -- I mean, there's slow food but the small food is really important. And having that connection with your farmers. Really just looking for the certified organic stamp at the farmer's market or at the grocery store is not enough because there's a lot of policies that are changing. Certified organic is very much changing. I'm an organic farmer but I'm not certified. And it's very important for me to kind of educate my customers about what I'm doing.
LESTERYou know, the rotations that I'm doing between crops, the fallow time of certain crops, when stuff is not in season. And what I'm doing for the fertility of the soil and of course, you know, I don't believe in the genetically modified organisms. I'm working with the natural biology of the soil already. So it's -- that's a challenge for us farmers. And definitely for me it's a big challenge to educate people what a GMO is and what a hybrid crop is and what a synthetic fertilizer is and what an organic fertilizer is.
LESTERSo it's -- and as a farmer too and as -- I'm a plant-based farmer too. I'm a natural farmer. I'm not using animal substances for the fertility of the soil, which is really important at this time.
NNAMDIPat, thank you very much for your call. We've got to take a short break. If you have called, stay on the line. We will get to your calls. If the lines are all busy then shoot us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a Tweet at kojoshow. What do you make of the argument that vegetarians are bad guests and bad travelers, 800-433-8850? I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on vegetables with Zach Lester, co-owner of the Tree and Leaf Farm in Unionville, Va. and Joe Yonan, author of "Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook." Joe Yonan is also the travel and food editor at the Washington Post. Zach, what inspired you to become a farmer? It's my understanding that there was a beautiful salad involved when you met your wife.
LESTERYeah, we were -- well, I was -- I'm a musician too and I was in New York City playing music. And I was at a party and -- it was like a Halloween party and I noticed that there was this great salad and there was an edible flower. And I saw that edible flower and said, who made that? And this beautiful woman across the way said, I did. And so I said, well I want that flower. And she was a rooftop gardener at the time. And I was still doing my landscape gardening, as well as doing some farming on the side and selling to restaurants.
LESTERAnd so I think my influences of farming were, you know, growing up kind of being taken care of by farmers. And they had side crops of -- you know, they had vegetable gardens that were, you know, an acre or two. And so experience with them, helping in canning or picking. My grandmother was an avid gardener. She's 100 -- almost 105 this year so...
NNAMDIIt also helps you to live forever, huh?
LESTERYeah, that's right. So -- and I just felt that the continuing -- you know, the work that I was doing in the landscape gardening business, that I really like the connection to the plants and the people. But then the growing the food in the connection and the direct marketing, retailing inspires me on a weekly basis really, that connection with people. So you're coming back from market, you’ve sold your vegetables. The stories that you've been -- and, you know, the information you've gotten from people and that kind of takes you through the week to the next one and kind of planning ahead. And so I think mainly the family and the public.
NNAMDIJoe, it was only a few years ago that you took off a year from the Post to live with your sister and brother-in-law in their homestead in Maine. You've written that your sister was the first vegetarian you ever knew. What did you get out of being there with her on that land for a year and how did that change the way you see food?
YONANIt was just last year. It was 2012. Oh, I got so much out of it. I mainly was drawn to seeing how they lived their life. They -- I've been going there for about a dozen years and it's what I call -- what they call a homestead. And I describe it to people in as succinct terms as I can as sort of selfish farming. So they're not -- they're -- unlike Zach they're not thinking at all about the market. They're trying to think of how to grow as much of their own food as they can, and how to supply as many of their own caloric needs and some variety and all of that. And how to balance the work that goes into it with the output and the desire to kind of see your food consumption from start to finish as much as possible.
YONANSo one of my favorite things that I learned was only tangentially or partly related to food, and that was the value of what I came to call uni-tasking, which it's a term that I throw around when I'm telling people about this experience. And it surprises me how frequently people don't know what the heck I mean when I say that. But for me it would be an experience of spending the morning out on the homestead with my brother-in-law and focusing on just one thing.
YONANSo he would take me to a huge pile of manure -- there are lots of piles all around the homestead. Gravel for soil amendments and manure and compost and mulch. So he would take me to a huge pile of manure and I would have a wheelbarrow and a shovel. And he would point me to the hundreds of feet of tomato beds, the ten different tomato beds. And he would say, well, I want this manure on those beds. And it was my job to shovel, shovel, shovel, shovel into the wheelbarrow, wheel the wheelbarrow one at a time over to the beds, shovel out by hand. And to do that for hours and hours and hours on end and to do it sometimes for days and days and days on end. And...l
NNAMDIAnd that's uni-tasking.
YONANThat is uni-tasking where there's no Facebook, no Twitter, no email, no...
NNAMDII was about to say, you're focused.
YONANYou know, you're just looking at one thing. And that as incredible for me. And so then in the afternoons when I was working on recipes or my own writing, working on a cookbook, my clarity of focus was much stronger, which was amazing. Of course I also picked up all sorts of things about growing food, you know, that I really hadn't thought about.
YONANI mean, Zach referred to the soil. And I think when you are trying to grow food in a way that doesn't involve a lot of chemicals or outside influence, I think every good grower comes to the realization at some point that it's about the soil and that it's about the structure of the soil and creating an environment in the soil that supports the growth of the plants. And I think that's something that I hadn't really thought that much about.
NNAMDIBut you also raise a fascinating concept because at first we were concerned that multitasking would cause us to lose focus. But now we're so used to multitasking that we now have to be re-convinced of the benefits of uni-tasking.
YONANYeah, exactly. Yeah, it's completely twisted.
NNAMDIHere is Derek in Ashburn, Va. Derek, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DEREKYeah, I was one of those people that ate the whole pig so...
LESTERWere you there?
DEREKYeah, the thing is, it's been like five years right now since I've been a vegetarian. And the thing is -- it was funny -- I became a vegetarian when I was living down in Charlotte, N.C., the barbecue state.
DEREKAnd I did it because I was eating way too much meat. I was able to eat, like, four pounds of shrimp, two 10-ounce steaks at one meal and everything. And I just got to the point and I noticed that my weight started to increase like 10 to 15 pounds a year. And I just said, I got to change my ways and everything because -- I was still healthy. Every time I went to the doctor every single year they'd say, you are fine. But the amount of intake of meat, it will get to you when you get older. So I decided just one day just to go cold turkey on March 1...
YONAN...so to speak.
DEREK...and I decided to become a vegetarian.
NNAMDIHow do people treat you now?
DEREKI had one friend when I came back to D.C. who teased me constantly about, you know, changing from being a carnivore to a vegetarian. But everybody else seemed to be okay with it. They were kind of surprised when they'd look at me and they were like, you still kind of big and everything. I thought vegetarians are skinny right now.
NNAMDIIs that a perception, Joe Yonan, that vegetarians are invariably very skinny people?
YONANWell, I think some people do think that, but I actually have seen -- well, one of my favorite blogs is called the chubby vegetarian. By the way, Derek, you might look that up, but it's -- I think actually to the contrary a lot of vegetarians unfortunately, I think, still eat a lot of processed foods. And I think one of the difficulties in being vegetarian can be your intake of carbs. I think it can be really difficult sometimes, especially if you're not cooking, if you're relying on restaurant meals and takeout meals, I think that you can end up eating just a lot of -- you get steered a lot of times in restaurants toward the pasta dish, the flat bread and that kind of thing.
YONANSo unfortunately I don't think it's really true, although I actually think that there are studies that show that vegetarians are on average slightly skinnier than carnivores, but...
NNAMDIDerek, thank you very much for your call. Zach, you have been selling at the DuPont Market for a few years now. Have you noticed any changes during that time in the appreciation that we have for locally grown food in this city? It's one thing for a famous restaurateur like Nora Puyon (sp?) to sing the praises of your farm and what you're selling. It's another for a customer of lesser means to start appreciating and spending money on the food you grow and sell. Have you noticed the change?
LESTERYeah, and we definitely market to all types of people and -- through the season. You know, I mean, of course everyone is really excited about when it's hot and there's -- the tomato season's in and they can kind of -- immediately their memory comes back for the smell of the basil and the tomato. But then people finding out, like, the really strong harvests that are in the mid-winter -- because we're there year around at DuPont -- and the interest of kale, like if you had talked to me five years ago about kale, not many people would be buying. But, you know, hundreds of pounds of kale that have been sold on a weekly basis in February and March and people -- that's they're savior. They see, you know, that really, you know, helps them through the winter.
LESTERSo -- and we do food programs with WIC and there's definitely -- not as much at DuPont Circle but, I mean, it's slowly creeping back where people are there on their season -- you know, to spend their money maybe at the end of the season or maybe they supplement throughout the season. And we kind of think about that for sure.
NNAMDIThank you. We've posted on our website kojoshow.org a few recipes from Joe's cookbook, including one for creamy green gazpacho. So you can go look there for it at kojoshow.org. Joe, to what degree do you think access to quality food or a place to grow food on your own is an issue that could still push people away from a more vegetable-centric diet in a city like Washington, D.C.? You write an entire chapter about how you put your heart into a community garden plot behind the Masonic Temple on 16th Street, only to later see the garden turned into a parking lot.
YONANIt pains me to even talk about it. It does, it does. It pains me to this day. It was wrenching. I think it's a big issue, you know. It struck me recently that, you know, I'm walking down 14th Street, which is just a few blocks from me and a block away from where the community garden was. And it's exploding with development, as you know and you've talked about. And there's all -- there's many, many issues around gentrification that are important for us to think about.
YONANBut I have been really struck by this question of why is it that when new development get built in the middle of the city, that there's no space for growing built into them? You know, I've been thinking about trying to see if I could do some rooftop gardening in my building.
NNAMDIHave that to think about, yep.
YONANAnd I've sort of put that on hold in my building because I've been helping a local church with their community garden. It's sort of fulfilling that desire of mine. But, you know, you see these big buildings go up and I just think, why aren't they -- why aren't more of them building in some growing space? The people who are moving into these projects -- into these condos would certainly like to be able to get their hands dirty. And maybe there could be a way that...
NNAMDIAnd not to mention helping with storm water runoff.
YONANWell, yes. Yes. And maybe there could be a way that some of those -- some of the space could be allotted to other members of the community who maybe aren't able to -- you know, to afford to live in these places. It could be maybe a way to sort of tame the effects of gentrification a little bit. I do think it's a problem though. I think people get more and more disconnected from food when they don't actually have any ability to grow it themselves.
NNAMDIVery specific question coming to you, Zach Lester. Here's Martha in Northwest Washington. Martha, your turn.
MARTHAOh, my goodness, hi. Two very specific questions. One, when I go to the DuPont farmers market, which stands should I be looking for? Where do I find it?
NNAMDILet me have Zach answer that immediately.
LESTERTree and Leaf Farm and we're kind of right in the middle of the market. We're next to Sebulla (sp?) Farms and Twin Springs and across the way from Next Step and Toigo (sp?) Orchards.
NNAMDIGo ahead, Martha.
MARTHAI'm sorry. You must be one of the big stands?
LESTERYeah, we're in the middle of the market right dead in the center, Tree and Leaf Farm.
MARTHASecond question, which I have never understood since I used to be vegan and I'm now trying to hit that segue. Why do vegetarians eat cheese and eggs?
LESTERWell, I think the short answer is why do vegetarians eat cheese and eggs would be because they're vegetarians and not vegans. That would be the short answer. You know, I think it's certainly on the same spectrum, veganism and vegetarianism. But there are different motivations. You know, vegan motivation is about avoiding all animal products. And a vegetarian motivation is really, you know, about not consuming animals. So things that animals produce, you know, like eggs and cheese are not off limits for vegetarians necessarily.
LESTERBut there are certainly many disagreements about this and I certainly have had many vegans tell me that their support of my term to vegetarianism is qualified because they think that I have not gone far enough.
NNAMDISee, that's the self righteousness that people complain about.
LESTERMaybe. You said it, Kojo, not me.
NNAMDII did, I did. I certainly did. Martha, thank you very much for your call. Here is Tracy in Washington, D.C. Tracy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TRACYHi. I wanted to thank Joe for his articles and his sensitivity to the topic. I've been vegan now for almost 30 years, and I'm an author as well. And so I have two questions for Joe specifically. First, I am interested to know if you are going to be doing -- writing about traveling, you know, on different continents around the world about eating vegetarian and eating vegan. I find it actually to not be difficult at all. I've done it on almost all continents and it's not -- it's actually easy.
TRACYSo I wanted to know, you know, what -- if you would be doing that and talking about that. And my second question is, how has your transition to vegetarianism influence how you write about food in general for the Post, whether it's about food that's vegan, vegetarian or omnivore? Because one of the things that I find is that I actually find your writing to be very sensitive towards it, and I don't find that in many newspapers that I read. So just the fact that you have become vegetarian, and you may be writing about food that is not, makes you sensitive to language, and for me actually as a writer, that's very important. So I just wanted you to comment about...
NNAMDIOkay. Here's Joe.
YONANWell, thanks Tracy. I really appreciate it. On your first question about eating on different continents, I'm really heartened to hear that you had good experiences. I actually have not traveled internationally since my kind of confirmation, if you will, as a vegetarian. And I've been a little worried because, frankly, you know, as someone who does believe -- and this is kind of the crux of the criticism, I think, that Anthony Bourdain has for vegetarians.
YONANAs someone, you know, I do agree with him that as travelers it's important that we respect other cultures, and that we not just barge into, you know, other parts of the world as Americans and expect everybody to just behave the way we behave, and that they should just bend to our perspective on everything. So I'm not entirely sure that philosophy is going to, you know, mesh with my vegetarianism, and so I'm glad to hear that you've found good experiences when you're eating on other continents.
YONANI mean, I've been thinking about trips that I'm going to take, and I was looking at a Southeast Asia trip, and I noticed that in the fall, in parts of Cambodia and Thailand, that there's a two- or three-week Buddhist festival in which all the restaurants cook vegetarian food, and I thought, well, that's when I'll go. That's perfect.
YONANYeah. That's when I'll go. On your second question, I appreciate that you find my writing sensitive. You know, it's interesting I think that good journalists are open to all viewpoints and want to present them in a way that treats them fairly. You know, my writing -- and in food I think there's a lot of this. It has a little bit more of an attitude sometimes, and there's a little element. There can be sort of an element of criticism in some of the writing when we're trying different foods and tasting things.
YONANAnd I -- for me, I'm not one of those vegetarians, at least not yet, who finds the whole idea of meat to be off putting physically, so that might be part of it. You know I don't look at a picture -- I can look at a picture of a raw steak and find the beauty in it. I don't -- my stomach doesn't turn when I see that, and I'm not -- at restaurants I'm not asking the waiter whether or not my veggie burger has been grilled on the same side of the grill as, you know, a chicken breast had been, and things like that.
YONANSo -- and I'm actually still tasting things here and there, you know, which is something that I know would open me up for some criticism, but I think it's important for me and my job when I'm at restaurants, and I'm not a restaurant critic thankfully, but, you know when I see dishes that friends are ordering and they say that something is really interesting and it looks really interesting even if it has meat in it, you know, there are times that I'm tasting that.
YONANWeeks may go by between those times, but they do exist, and I think that keeps me open and sensitive to all viewpoints.
NNAMDITracy, thank you for your call. And you must be a lot like David in Chinatown, Joe. We got an email from David who says, "I used to be a steakhouse guy, a barbecue guy. I thought the measure of a great cook was what the person could do with meat. Then -- and I know this sounds trite, I took a trip to California and had dinner at the great Alice Waters' restaurant, Chez Panisse. It was the first meal I ever had when the vegetables on my plate were the stars of the show, and it occurred to me, a lot of people can throw a piece of meat on the grill and make it taste good, but learning to make someone jump for their vegetables?" Which you can do -- boy, can you do it.
NNAMDI"It takes true greatness as a chef. Thanks to Joe and Zach for giving people ideas about how to make more people love the food we can grow ourselves. I still eat meat, but vegetables are now the food that really, really make me happy."
YONANThat's so great to hear.
NNAMDIThanks a lot, David. We've got to take a short break. When we come back we continue our conversation with Joe Yonan and Zach Lester and you, if you've called. 800-433-8850. The lines are busy, so if you want to communicate with us now, send email to email@example.com. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. It's a Food Wednesday conversation on vegetables with Joe Yonan, author of the book "Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook." He's also the travel and food editor at the Washington Post. Zach Lester is the co-owner of the Tree and Leaf Farm in Unionville, Va., and following up on that email we got from David in Chinatown talking about how to make vegetables (word?), Zach, what kind of cooking advice do you find yourself giving to people when you sell them? How important do you think this link is to what you do? People, after all, need to do with the vegetables they're buying.
LESTEROh, definitely. And so it's all there, and yeah. It is kind of your own cooking show. And my wife, Georgia, works on a lot of recipes so there would be a slip with a recipe close to -- or several recipes by the black radish or, you know, the unusual puntarella, escarole, or -- and so people that don't know about that, we initially -- if they're drawn to that and they ask, what do I do with this, or I haven't really seen this green before, or this vegetable before, what do I do? And so that really is our time to talk and connect with people.
LESTERAnd the thing that's really important about it is the simplicity that we really approach the food that we are cooking the food very simply, and that's really important. To feed our kids, you know, I have a seven year old and almost a two year old, and how do we get them to eat their vegetables. And the other part is, it's not as much heady. It's not coming from our head. There's a lot of heart going on in that in connection, and that really is very effective with people.
NNAMDIJoe, a lot of people who might consider eating a more vegetable-centric diet may come into it thinking, okay, I need to find a way to replace with something like meat. What would you say to that? You write a fair amount about imitation meat, and even as you answer that, we got about -- a tweet about this week's news about the so-called test tube burger, someone who would like to hear your thoughts on fake or lab-grown meat. Also, what distinguishes a vegetarian who consumes lab-grown meat? A lot of questions there for you.
YONANOh, man. Well, I have to say, you know, a lot of -- let me first say that a lot of my motivation in turning to vegetarianism has been an organic process, and it's been partly about listening to what my body wants to eat, what makes me feel good to eat, what I'm drawn to. And I can't say that reading the story about the lab-grown meat made my stomach growl in any way. I'm not interested. And, you know, I'm glad that no animals were hurt in the making of that meat, but I also think it seems sort of pointless to me when there are such good plant-based sources of protein.
YONANAnd by that, I don't mean that you have to necessarily, you know, have tofu or tempeh, even though I actually like both of them. There are plenty of pure plant sources of protein. One of the old standard responses that a lot of vegetarians give when they're asked the question where do you get your protein, they say, from the same place that the cow gets it. And I like that idea a lot. I remember a couple of weeks ago, someone wrote in, I had a recipe for a roasted vegetable and farro salad in the Post, and someone wrote in to say that she was allergic to -- I think I had walnuts in the salad, and she was allergic to walnuts, and she was going to take them out, but she wanted to know whether that would be taking out too much of the protein and had we analyzed it.
YONANSo we analyzed it further, and it turns out that the biggest source of protein in the farro and roasted vegetable salad was from -- want to guess? It was from the farro. There was also feta in the salad, and there were walnuts in the salad, but the farro was the biggest source of protein, so there are plenty of good sources protein. Beans, obviously, and nuts and seeds, but a lot of grains have protein.
YONANAnd so the mock meats, the imitation meats to me, I have very mixed feelings about, because I think that, you know, on the one hand, if it helps someone who's really used to eating meat, if it helps them transition toward more of a plant-based diet, then I can see the value in that, but I also think that vegetarians should be thinking about eating vegetables and not fake things, you know. And there's a lot of products out there, and more and more are coming, and some of them are definitely better than others. I tend to like some of the grain-based imitation meats better than the soy-based imitation meats.
NNAMDIHere's Craig in West River, Md. Craig, your turn.
CRAIGHi, folks. How you all doing today?
CRAIGGood. Well, I recently went out to dinner with a group of people, and there was one diehard vegan in the group, and he was looking through the menu and it was vegetarian friendly. But he went to order something and what -- the waitress was vegan savvy, and she said well, you know, the rice, there's a chicken bouillon that's used to steam it. And so the guy kind of looks at her kind of disgustedly and says, well, what are we going to about this? Okay? And so that's my question, do restaurateurs have a moral or social obligation to accommodate vegans when they walk into their establishment if they don't have vegan friendly, you know, all over...
NNAMDIWell, you know, one of the things I read in preparing for this show, Joe, was that the National Associations of Restaurants has vegetarianism as one of the trending -- the top ten trending things in restaurants these days. But let me ask Joe. Where do you see things headed? Do you think more and more people are seeing business strategies that can work for them when vegetables are the stars of what they're serving? Are you seeing more vegetable options in restaurants?
YONANYes. Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely. No. I think that it's indisputable that restaurants are moving toward more and more vegetable dishes and vegetable-focused plates. People want it, and chefs are people, and they're also feeling the pull themselves. I mean, some of my favorite chefs are overjoyed at discovering how fabulous vegetables can be and cooking with vegetables can be. I mean, I would say to Craig too about his friend in the restaurant that I -- I mean, I don't know that a restaurant has a moral obligation to serve vegan food. I mean, that's possibly a question for somebody...
NNAMDIIt just makes business sense.
YONANBut it just -- exactly. It just makes business sense. I mean, I think that if you want to draw a wide variety of people, then you want to try to serve them.
NNAMDIWhat's been your restaurant experience, Zach?
LESTERWell, it's, you know, my restaurant experiences, I'm mainly selling to restaurants, so I'm not really eating them.
YONANZach doesn't have time.
LESTERSo, I mean, my -- I have great chefs that I work with that come to the market, or there's some preorder that's done, and so people are really flexible in terms of -- and there's a lot of open dialogue in terms of the quality, or maybe there's a dynamic about the crop that's different. This year it's very rainy. There's a lot of dynamics with the tomatoes, certain varieties are better than others. Greens are better at this time then they would never have been very good in August.
LESTERSo I have a constant dialogue with the restaurants, and I'm obviously trying to influence them on different greens and different roots on a year-round basis as well as fruits and vegetables.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Maria, "Does Tree and Leaf sell at markets in northern Virginia at all?"
LESTERYes. Falls Church Saturdays from 8:00 to 1:00 -- 8:00 to 12:00, excuse me.
NNAMDIThere you go, Maria. And finally, here's Frank in Sperryville, Va. Frank, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
FRANKYeah. I'm calling to -- just a thing that people might not have considered when they think about being a vegetarian. I came to be one in the early seventies when I was raised in a meat-eating family...
NNAMDIWe only have about a minute left, Frank, but go ahead.
FRANKOkay. So I'll try to make this quick. Anyway, I came about it because I got a job first year out of high school on a small farm, which wasn't really a working farm, but the guy raised a bunch of cattle. At the end of the season, I was conscripted to help take these cattle to the slaughter house, just drop them off there, and I had never been next to a cow. I was raised in the suburbs. So it was a shock to me. And when we dropped the cattle off, I turned around to look at them, and they looked at me, and I realized, wow, I don't think I want to be part of this whole chain.
FRANKAnd I ate meat for another year to two, but I stopped shortly after that, and that was the days before factory farming. So I asked people to consider if they really want to be part of the unhappy chain...
NNAMDIWhich is what a lot of vegetarians and more vegans make the argument of. But Joe Yonan, by virtue of being a travel and food editor, has to be sensitive the history of people who eat and still enjoy meat.
YONANAbsolutely. And I think that one of the things that I find frustrating with some of the vegetarian and vegan messages out there are ones that ignore that food culture and history. I quote in my book a very off the cuff remark that Alicia Silverstone makes in her book called -- her book is called "The Kind Diet," and she opens a little segment on eggs by just saying, eggs are weird.
NNAMDIJoe Yonan, he's the author of the "Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook." He's also the travel and food editor at the Washington Post. Joe, thank you for joining us.
YONANThanks so much for having me.
NNAMDIZach Lester is the co-owner of the Tree and Leaf Farm in Unionville, Va. Zach, thank you for joining us.
LESTERSuper. Take care. Thank you.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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